Montaigne begins his essay with a very bold statement: “I rarely repent and… my conscience is happy with itself”

(Montaigne, 234). Many readers during his time would have been offended by this statement, yet many of those offended would secretly wonder how they too could ease their conscience. Montaigne writes that he does not have “the conscience of an angel…nor of a horse…[but] the conscience of a man” (234). To have a good conscience and a happy conscience are two different things, though having both is possible. Being good and feeling good is indeed possible, though many people settle for the illusion of one or the other. Montaigne believes this is because people often regret their actions rather than repent. Most people confuse the two terms with the same meaning, but regret is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. With this guise of repentance, regret can be very destructive. By understanding Montaigne’s types of consciences we can find that accepting who we were made to be is better than regretting what we are not. Many people assume that to be truly happy with your conscience is to be totally free from vice. This makes sense, that to have nothing bad to be conscious about would mean an untroubled conscience. Montaigne calls this type of conscience angelic and many people believe this is the conscience all men should have. It’s no surprise that this popular belief exists, considering men have long attempted to climb Jacob’s ladder. To be closer to God is to be more angelic, and thus to have an angelic conscience is the epitome of men. Montaigne disagrees with this not on the nature of the conscience but on man’s ability to have it. An angelic conscience is a good conscience—perhaps the most pious conscience God created— but it was not created for men. Other people believe that having no conscience is to have a happy conscience. A bestial conscience is where the conscience is virtually non-existent, leaving vice without consequence. On the celestial hierarchy beasts are considered the lowest, so naturally a bestial conscience is considered the lowest form of

2 conscience. With a bestial conscience the concepts of good and evil disappear, leaving only the concept of survival. If only survival remains, then to survive is to be happy with your conscience. To many this seems liberating and to others diabolical but either way a bestial conscience is the lowest conscience God created. But again, it was not created for men. Neither an angelic or bestial conscience is possible for men to obtain because they were not created for them. To have an angelic conscience is to be totally and utterly without vice. People can have more or less vice than others, but this does not matter because the Bible itself says that “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). Since all men have vice it is impossible to have an angelic conscience. Likewise, to have a bestial conscience is impossible for man. To have a bestial conscience is to be free from conscience, where survival is all that matters. Men can more or less have varying degrees for how much their conscience affects them, but either way no man is totally without one. If men truly had no conscience then their desire would only be to survive. Like an animal they would have no desire for luxuries or gold or power. Angelic or bestial, no man is totally one or the other. As virtuous as a man is, he is not without vice and likewise as licentious as a man is, he is not without conscience. Men can make miniscule steps towards angelic or bestial consciences but will always have the conscience of man. Since it has been determined that it is impossible for all men to have any other conscience than that of man, what then is it to have the conscience of man? Montaigne suggests that man is distinctly different from both angels and beasts in his capacity of simultaneously having vice and a good conscience. The suggestion that man can feel good with vice would likely have been met with opposition due to implications of guilt-free sin, yet this is entirely the opposite effect Montaigne has in

3 mind. Angelic-wannabes need note that Montaigne does not condone vice, but writes that “There is no vice that is truly a vice which is not odious and which… judgment does not condemn” (234). Vice, according to Montaigne, is a bad thing—a thing that is both disgusting and condemned. Montaigne’s argument is against those who want to leave their human conscience behind in favor of the others. People try to adopt either an angelic perspective or a bestial perspective, with both extremes being harmful. Most people are aware that a bestial conscience is destructive, but many do not see the harm in an angelical conscience. Montaigne focuses his argument on the angelical conscience while also pushing a more middlegrounded idea of accepting instead of regretting the conscience of man. Repenting rarely does not mean that Montaigne sins rarely nor does it mean that he rarely cares about his sin. The fact that he repents less than some people shows the security he has in his faith. Montaigne does not claim to be totally virtuous but rather claims to be like everyone else, as “one of that regiment” (240). He has vice, he has a conscience and yet he is “in harmony with how [he] was made” (241). Montaigne wants to address angelic-wannabes, people who repent too much and so much that they have lost the joy in who they are. Trying to have an angelic conscience is destructive because it causes us to regret our human conscience. We can be happy in our human conscience. Montaigne believes that “[b]asing the recompense of virtuous deeds on another’s approbation is to accept too uncertain and confused a foundation” (235). Using someone else as a standard for how virtuous you are is both uncertain and wrong. Most people commonly rate their righteousness or virtue based on two things: by what other people say about them and by comparing themselves to other people. Both are incorrect. Addressing the former, Montaigne explains that “in a corrupt…period like our own to be in good

4 esteem with the masses is an insult” (235). To be praised by people who live in a corrupt world makes the standard of in which they judge virtue uncertain. Montaigne gives another example of his friends’ judgment of himself, coming to the conclusion that “from their standards, I would not have been wrong to do wrong rather than right” (235). The measure of virtue in their praise is false, making their verdict also false. Comparing themselves to others is the other way in which people error in measuring virtue. Similar to how others measure our virtue, likewise we too are uncertain in how we measure another’s virtue. We only see the outward appearance, which makes our judgment of their virtue false. We cannot compare ourselves with anyone, for even the most righteous men in the Bible were not without sin. We cannot depend on the judgment of other people either, since they have no better a standard than we. How then can we know where we stand in virtue? Montaigne suggests that we “must establish an inner model to serve as a touchstone for our actions” (236). In a Christian-dominated world this idea, like rarely repenting, can be misunderstood. Relying on oneself is certainly better than relying on others, but what about God? Montaigne does not suggest that we rely solely on ourselves to deem something good or evil, but on God’s ability to show us. He writes that “God must touch our hearts” (245), an idea that seems to connect with many Lutheran themes. God himself will give us the ability to know “whether [we] are base and cruel, or loyal and dedicated” (236), no one else. We will be able to see ourselves as “God does see [us]” (242), giving us the ability to judge ourselves insofar as God allows us. This gives mankind an established means to understand our righteousness. Seeing ourselves as God sees us for Montaigne is genuine repentance. In seeing our degree of virtue we come to understand just how little of it we have.

5 What may appear to be a higher or lower degree of righteousness between men is virtually nothing compared to the degree of difference between even the most righteous man and God. The key is in realizing that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). The degree by which each man falls does not matter, for falling short to any degree results in condemnation, and all men fall short. Whether you are the most righteous or the most heinous of sinners you are nonetheless a sinner, equally subject to the same penalty. In seeing ourselves as God sees us we truly understand why God despises our sin. This causes us to feel sorry for our sin “out of respect for God” (246). This is repentance. This notion of repentance is foreign to many people who regret rather than repent. To regret is to feel disappointed in the end result. People regret their abilities, not the fact that they sin. They regret that they are unable to stop themselves and “desire to be entirely different…[condemning their] universal form, [grieving] at it and [begging] God to [reform them]” (241). “You cannot extirpate the qualities we are originally born with” (239), you cannot be angelic. Montaigne’s position is simply that man should resist vice but not feel like a failure when he is unable to. Man should accept that he “cannot do better” (241), but never should he embrace vice. Trying to have an angelic conscience is impossible and destructive. In failing to accept our role as men we bring forth regret instead of repentance. Montaigne writes, “The soul’s value consists not in going high but in going ordinately” (238), meaning that accepting who we are is more valuable than trying to be what we are not. The Bible even tells us that “godly sorrow produces repentance…not to be regretted: but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Cor. 7:10). Regret, the sorrow of the world, causes us to turn inwards instead of towards God, focusing on ourselves in sorrow rather than on God in gratitude. By

6 accepting that we cannot be without vice we are reminded that we cannot rely on ourselves for salvation. People should be rejoicing in the sacrifice of Christ, that He died for the sin we cannot purge rather than regretting our inability to do it ourselves.

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